Saturday, June 20, 2009

El Chapo: The Most Wanted Man in Mexico

Via News Week International -

The guards at the city club mall in downtown Culiacán refused to talk about the bullet holes in the parking lot. Or about the cross stuck into the pavement, inscribed with three pairs of initials and a melancholy tribute in Spanish: WE WILL LOVE YOU ALWAYS. But almost anyone in this city of 1 million could tell you what happened here a little before 9 p.m. on May 8, 2008: how three men climbed unawares into their white SUV after shopping at the mall; how three other cars zoomed up then unleashed a fusillade of AK-47 gunfire and a single blast from a bazooka. All three men were killed, two of them body-guards for the third, a hulking 22-year-old named Edgar Beltrán Guzman—the son of Joaquín Guzman Loera, better known as El Chapo ("Shorty"), the most wanted man in Mexico.

Culiacán is the bare-knuckle state capital of Sinaloa, laid out between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre mountains, about 350 miles northwest of Mexico City. I'd come here, as journalists do, in search of El Chapo. If I hung around long enough, I'd been told, I might catch him at one of his famous restaurant drop-bys. (His bodyguards sweep the room, confiscating all mobile phones before his dramatic entrance; he picks up everyone's tab afterward.) But when I arrived in town in early April, El Chapo hadn't been seen in public since his son's murder. He'd gone underground, thanks in part to President Felipe Calderón's all-out war on the drug cartels—2,500 troops were now based in Culiacán and carrying out daily raids—but also because of a bloody feud with a former close ally and boyhood friend, Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, nicknamed Mochomo ("Redhead").

Earlier this month a shootout between Mexican police and Mochomo's gang left 18 people dead in Acapulco. The same gang allegedly killed El Chapo's son—revenge, it's said, after El Chapo betrayed Mochomo to federal authorities. (Javier Valdez, an investigative reporter who looked into Mochomo's arrest for the respected local newsweekly Rio Doce, believes that the federales talked Guzman into giving up his onetime ally. "The government was saying, 'We need somebody, we want somebody,' so to lower the pressure, El Chapo turned in Mochomo," he says.) In revenge, hundreds of narcotraficantes in Culiacán were killed. Victims were found shot dead in parked cars, decapitated, burned, rolled up in bloody blankets and dumped on the roadside. The satirical monthly La Locha ran a helpful glossary of drug-related terminology, including encobijado (a body wrapped up a blanket), ladrillo (a kilo brick of cocaine) and encajuelado (a corpse stuffed in a trunk).

Matters got so bad that at the end of last year, a state official reportedly trekked up to a ranch in Durango state, deep in the eastern Sierra Madre, and got the jefe and Mochomo's men to agree to a truce. (Government officials acknowledge a peace deal but deny any role in it.) Guzman was said to have gone to ground, holed up at one of his tightly guarded haciendas in the mountains. The Sierra is "wild country, the natural place for El Chapo," says Ismael Bojórquez Perea, the editor of Rio Doce. "He feels good and secure up there."

Culiacán's economy has since gone into a tailspin. Nightclubs, discos and restaurants that had catered to the narcos shut down. The downtown street where chirrines—Mexican horn-and-string bands—once waited to be hired for spontaneous fiestas were dark and deserted. Nobody, I was told, felt much like celebrating. And nobody wanted to talk about El Chapo.


There is much more to the article...good read passed to me by a friend.

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